The future of TV Channel 14 -opinion

Channel 14’s claim that its conduct is no different from that of channels 11, 12 and 13 is little more than feigned naivety.

 PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid speaks during an election campaign event in Tel Aviv last month (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid speaks during an election campaign event in Tel Aviv last month
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

All the rumpus around the alleged attempt by Yesh Atid to close down the extreme right-wing TV Channel 14 seems totally superfluous, and much ado about nothing.

In principle, I am against the closing down of any TV channel, no matter how scandalous it is, unless it is guilty of illegal conduct. In the current case, Yesh Atid has not demanded that Channel 14 be closed down, but merely called it to order, on the basis of amendment 35 of the Parties Financing Law, known as amendment V15, which was initiated by MK Yoav Kisch from the Likud, and passed in its third reading in March 2017.

The amendment was designed to limit the activities of individuals and associations in favor of the election campaigns and election-day activities of specific parties of which they are not an integral part.

The idea was primarily to prevent indirect, unreported foreign and domestic financing of the election campaigns and Election-Day activities of Israeli parties.

Naturally, the Likud had left-wing and centrist parties in mind. Back in 2017, the Zionist camp managed to foil an attempt by the Likud to exclude Israel Hayom – until not long ago a pro-Netanyahu daily with unlimited resources, distributed for free – from the amendment.

Yesh Atid based its petition to the Central Elections Committee, to declare Channel 14 and its owner Yitzhak Mirilashvili as “bodies active in elections” on this amendment.

Yesh Atid’s main claim was that Channel 14 was not only acting openly in favor of Netanyahu and the Likud, but also against Yesh Atid and its leader Yair Lapid. It did not demand that Channel 14 be closed down, merely that it be called to order.

Channel 14’s claim that its conduct is no different from that of channels 11, 12, and 13 is little more than feigned naivety.

Is channel 14 any different from other media outlets?

None of the three channels is completely neutral, but none of them presents open propaganda for any party as neutral news reporting, and all of them invite Likud MKs to be interviewed and give them an open microphone to read out the official election messages distributed by the Likud campaign management.

In fact, if anyone is blocking Likud MKs from appearing on these three channels, it is Benjamin Netanyahu himself, who is trying to stop anyone from the Likud from saying anything that diverges from the official party messages.

In addition, unlike the central reporters and broadcasters from Channel 14, who in previous election campaigns participated in direct Likud propaganda broadcasts with Netanyahu, their counterparts in the other channels are strictly forbidden from acting similarly in favor of any party.

It will be interesting to see what the Central Elections Committee will have to say about the two petitions. I am hopeful that it will oust both, though its analysis of what goes on in channels 14 and 12 might be interesting.

Incidentally, one can learn of some of the differences by observing the performance of several Channel 14 panelists who also appear on panels on channels 12 and 13 on a regular basis. While when they appear on Channel 14 they are unbridled in their comments, and extremely cynical when they speak of any of the Right’s political rivals, on the other channels they express right-wing positions but in a much more stately (mamlachti) and respectful manner.

Why did I say at the outset that the current rumpus is superfluous and much ado about nothing? Because Channel 14 is a negligible channel with a viewers rate of 0.5%-2%.

It is really quite amazing that the one channel that is openly identified with Netanyahu has such a low rate of viewership. Since there are very few viewers who are not identified with the Right who view Channel 14 regularly (I am one of them), I would guess that its propaganda value is negligible.

IF ANYONE WERE to ask me how Channel 14 can increase the number of its viewers, I would suggest that it simply gives a little more exposure to other political positions and that its presenters should not be so hostile and cynical when interviewing “others,” or discussing other positions.

That they are capable of doing this was proven last week when Channel 14 presenters Yaacov Bardugo and Tal Meir interviewed Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, though the circumstances were rather unusual; Schocken came out publicly against Yesh Atid’s petition against the channel.

Channel 14's "interviews"

More typical of the treatment people considered rivals or enemies of Netanyahu receive on the channel was the interview, also last week, of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked with Channel 14’s senior presenter and commentator Erel Segal, who kept attacking and shouting at her.

To Shaked’s credit, one must say that she stood up to Segal bravely, shouting back and not allowing him to silence or shake her. But this is certainly not a respectable way for a TV channel to treat its guests – even those with whom it is at ideological loggerheads, or who it considers having betrayed “the cause.”

However, it is broadcasting such as the interview that opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave Yaacov Bardugo last Monday that most clearly marks Channel 14 as a pro-Netanyahu propaganda machine. It was not really an interview. It was primarily a Netanyahu harangue, in which nothing he said was challenged, even when he was shamelessly manipulating the facts, as he is frequently prone to do.

For example, Netanyahu is in the habit of quoting from an annual survey prepared by US News & World Report, with the professional support of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Y&R’s BAV Group, which presents the ranking of up to 80 states in the spheres of entrepreneurship, adventure, citizenship, cultural influence, heritage, movers, open for business, power, and quality of life.

In several of these categories, Israel ranks quite low, but since the project began in 2015, it has ranked high in terms of its power and influence.

Netanyahu likes to brag that he was responsible for Israel being ranked in eighth place due to his own policies. In his “interview” with Bardugo, he claimed that since he was ousted from power, Israel’s ranking has gone down the drain.

Indeed, in 2021 – the first half of which Netanyahu was still prime minister – Israel deteriorated to 11th place in its power ranking.

But this year, in which Bennett and Lapid shared the premiership, Israel has climbed up again to 10th place. In more general terms, Israel’s general ranking was 25th in 2016, but deteriorated to 30th place in 2018 (when Netanyahu was still in power), and held the same rank in 2021.

Just as in the 1996 election Netanyahu claimed that “Peres will divide Jerusalem,” in the interview last week, he stated that Defense Minister Benny Gantz had promised the Palestinians that their capital will be in Jerusalem and that Lapid had declared that 80,000 Jewish settlers will have to be uprooted from Judea and Samaria.

In Gantz’s case, he was totally misquoted, while Lapid’s “quote” was from something he had said back in 2013 on the consequences of a possible future agreement with the Palestinians. The 80,000 were inhabitants of what Israel considered, at the time, illegal settlements.

Needless to say, Bardugo didn’t bother to doubt the accuracy of anything Netanyahu had said and ended the interview by praising his new book, and asking him to sign a petition against the closing down of Channel 14, to which Netanyahu complied.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book is Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, published by Routledge.